MLK’s legacy destined to endure
Coleman Hughes, who was a philosophy undergraduate at Columbia University in January 2019, made several noteworthy observations about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in an opinion article — “Martin Luther King, Colorblind Radical” — published in the Wall Street Journal.
Those observations merit reflection during today’s annual federal holiday honoring the slain civil rights leader.
“While no one can know what King would have thought about the Black Lives Matter movement,” Hughes’ article said, “we can take a clue from his speech ‘Where Do We Go From Here?’ given in 1967, a year before his death: ‘Let us be dissatisfied until that day when nobody will shout “White Power!” — when nobody will shout “Black Power!” — but everybody will talk about God’s power and human power.”
Hughes ended his article by observing that “if we use the adjective ‘radical’ to describe King, then we should follow it with the right nouns.
King was a radical Christian, as demonstrated by his commitment to loving his enemies no matter how much they hated him.
He was a radical truth-teller, whether that meant telling white moderates that blacks wouldn’t wait any longer to be granted full rights, or telling blacks not to make oppression an excuse for failure.
Most important, he was a radical advocate, not on behalf of any subdivision of our species, but on behalf of humanity as a whole.”
It is ironic — and deeply troubling — that today, nearly 54 years after his death on April 4, 1968, one important component of the full rights that he sought — voting rights for all — is under attack in many states across this country, including Pennsylvania.
America’s slumbering conscience needs to wake up before other attempted erosions are permitted to become rooted.
Newsweek magazine, on April 6, 1998, marking 30 years since King’s murder in Memphis, Tenn., published “The War Over King’s Legacy,” which, as part of the lead-in to the article, asked the question, “Was the real King a saint, a subversive — or both?”
Today, there are Americans cemented to all three of those viewpoints, and a definitive answer to the question is destined to remain out of reach. That is secondary.
What is primary is that King remain in the nation’s history books as a humanitarian and leader in the struggle for justice, equal and civil rights for African Americans — and, by extension even today, for all minorities and others seeking better lives in this country.
His legacy is destined to endure, despite any attempts to undermine it.
The civil rights movement promoted deep thought about the injustices in American society, and King was one of the leaders who called attention to the need for Americans to admit — and then work to remedy — those injustices. That is important to remember.
Injustice should have no place in the America of the 21st century and no century beyond.
One of King’s most memorable moments was when he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. But Americans should strive to learn more about other aspects of his life and objectives, because the objectives he promoted remain relevant amid what is happening in this country today.
Use today’s observance as an acknowledgment of King’s enduring importance.